[EDITOR'S NOTE: In November 2009, MoJo reporter Andy Kroll received a tip about a little-known yet powerful firm, the Law Offices of David J. Stern, which handled staggering numbers of foreclosures in southeastern Florida—the throbbing heart of nation's housing crisis. Among the allegations, the tipster had it from insiders that Stern employees were routinely falsifying legal paperwork in an effort to push borrowers out of their homes as quickly—and profitably—as possible.
Kroll spent eight months investigating Stern's firm and its ilk—a breed of deep-pocketed and controversial operations dubbed "foreclosure mills." After sifting through thousands of pages of court documents, interviewing scores of legal experts and former Stern employees, and attending dozens of foreclosure hearings in drab Florida courtrooms, he emerged with a portrait of a law firm—indeed, an entire industry—that was willing to cut corners, deceive judges, and even (allegedly) commit fraud—all at the expense of America's homeowners.
When an earlier version of this story first broke online on August 4, it generated lots of buzz. Columbia Journalism Review called it the "must-read of the month" and "a great piece of muckraking journalism." News sites from the Huffington Post on the left to the Daily Caller on the right featured it on their front pages. But the crucial response came from the authorities: Six days after Kroll's story went live, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced an investigation into Stern's firm and two others. In September, the New York Times followed with a lengthy piece on Florida's foreclosure mess and Stern's operation in particular. A few weeks after that, further revelations of robo-signed paperwork and law firms gaming the courts have plunged the industry into chaos, with banks freezing foreclosures from Maine to California and members of Congress railing against the mortgage companies.
"This is the final curtain: the ending of the Kilpatrick dynasty."
So concluded Detroit political consultant Eric Foster in the Detroit Free Press' report on the primary defeat of Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick.
Cheeks Kilpatrick, a seven-term Democrat, represented Michigan's 13th congressional district, which includes large parts of Detroit. Her defeat is largely attibutable to one of the worst scandals in that city's history. The salacious saga centered on her son, Kwame, Detroit's disgraced former mayor, who had an affair with his chief of staff, lied about it under oath, and spent millions in city funds fighting public disclosure of text messages and secret settlements. The former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cheeks Kilpatrick lost to state Senator Hansen Clarke; at 11:45 p.m., Clarke had 46 percent of the vote and Cheeks Kilpatrick 40 percent. The Free Press described Hansen's win as a "stunning upset victory."
Here's more from the Freep as the results roll in:
The defeat could spell the end of a 14-year congressional career for Kilpatrick, who has been dogged by the legal problems faced by her son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, now serving time for violating probation on state felony charges and awaiting trial on federal charges of tax evasion and mail and wire fraud.
The race has been among the most watched races in the state.
A subdued crowd at Kilpatrick’s election night party in downtown Detroit waited for the final numbers to roll in, hoping that absentee ballots might reverse the trend...
At Clarke's party at the Centaur Bar in Detroit, the mood was much more upbeat. Cheering erupted as Clarke greeted the crowd.
"What’s missing is a congressman willing to work in the city," said Detroit city councilman Gary Brown. "I hope he can bring the Michigan delegation in Washington together."
[More MoJo primary coverage: Nick Baumann reports on the Missouri primaries for US Senate here.]
Big labor, at least in a manufacturing state like Michigan, still wields some major political muscle. That's one takeaway from Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary in Michigan, in which labor's pick, Lansing mayor Virg Bernero, easily defeated state House speaker Andy Dillon. Most media outlets called the race for Bernero early in the evening, and with 50 percent of voting precincts reporting, Bernero led Dillon by more than 40,000 votes.
Bernero, once seen as the underdog candidate, trailed Dillon in the polls for most of his primary campaign. But recently labor groups like the AFL-CIO and AFSCME mobilized their members and ramped up their ground campaign on Bernero's behalf, and as a result, the blunt Lansing mayor surged in the most recent polls. A fiery politician, Bernero is largely seen as a defender of the working class, especially the auto industry, and will garner even more support from Michigan's still-influential unions heading into November.
While Bernero sounds like a classic Michigan Democrat, Rick Snyder, who easily defeated longtime Rep. Pete Hoekstra in Michigan's GOP gubernatorial primary, is hardly your typical Republican. The former CEO of Gateway computers, Snyder trounced his more established Republican opponents, leading Hoekstra by 63,000 votes with 53 percent of precincts reporting. Like Bernero, Snyder got off to a rocky, unassuming start, but quickly gathered momentum as voters latched onto his job-creation message in a state blighted by 13 percent unemployment.
Today, the citizens of hard-hit Michigan—13.2 percent jobless rate, recurring budget crises, educated young people fleeing the state—hit the polls for the state's gubernatorial primaries. The race to replace largely unpopular Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, who's term limited, is closest on the Republican side, with the top three GOP candidates separated by only a few percentage points in the polls. That's the primary you'll want to watch: With an anti-incumbent mood sweeping the country, and an anti-Granholm sentiment as well, whoever wins the GOP's highly competitive nomination today will likely claim the governor's seat in November.
Running neck-and-neck in the Republican primary are wealthy businessman Rick Snyder (26), Attorney General Mike Cox (24), Rep. Pete Hoekstra (23 percent support), and Oakland County sheriff Mike Bouchard (10). Like the Jeff Greenes and Linda McMahons of 2010, Snyder, 51, has drawn on his considerable wealth to spend millions on campaign ads, boosting his stature from relative unknown to frontrunner in the polls. The rest of the GOP crowd are longtime state pols, guys with name recognition who've been around Michigan politics for years.
You know the right is souring on Sharron Angle, the Nevada conservative aiming to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, when even a Fox News interviewer can't help but laugh at the bizarre things that come out of Angle's mouth.
Fox News' Carl Cameron interviewed Angle yesterday as part of the Fox's political primary coverage, and Cameron asked Angle about her, um, media strategy. A quick refresher: Angle is the candidate who has consistently run away from reporters, ducked the media's questions, called one reporter an "idiot," and even left a pregnant reporter, microphone in hand, in the dust of her white Jeep as it sped away from a recent campaign event. When Fox's Cameron questioned Angle about her media run-ins and her relationship with reporters, her answer was so bizarre and amateurish that it left Cameron speechless and laughing. Here's the exchange, with the video included afterward:
Angle: "We needed to have the press be our friend."
Cameron: "Wait a minute. Hold on a second. To be your friend...?"
Angle: "Well, truly..."
Cameron: "That sounds naive."
Angle: "Well, no. We wanted them to ask the questions we want to answer so that they report the news the way we want it to be reported."